James Whitaker became the first of his dynasty to etch his name on the BHS Queen Elizabeth II Cup at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Great Britain at the BHS Royal International Horse Show when he produced the quickest of two double clears in a four-way jump off with Glenavadra Brilliant.
The Huddersfield rider, who turns 21 on Monday (30 July), was the sole rider to take a turn inside the stone wall to the Bunn Leisure oxer three from home, saving vital extra seconds.
The big Irish chestnut — a Derby winner here in 2016 with James’ brother William, and fifth with James this year — stopped the clock in 52.97sec, shaving 1.37sec from the next quickest clear produced by pathfinders Pippa Funnell and the great 17-year-old stallion Billy Congo.
A strong challenge came from Helen Tredwell and her prolific county circuit winner Larksong in final draw. The naturally quick home-bred grey mare was more than 2sec up on the clock but caught the back rail of the oxer at the last to settle for third place.
Alison Barton and Roma IV collected fourth after tipping the second fence in a steadier 54.45sec.
“My horse loves big grass arenas and this is definitely a big grass arena — he always performs well here,” said James, who took over the ride on the 15-year-old full-time last year.
“Just before I went in someone said to me ‘go inside the wall’ — I looked at it and thought ‘how am I supposed to get inside and back to that fence?’ especially on that big fella. I was slow going into the double though and thought I’d have to do something.”
He described the prestigious national grand prix win as “definitely up there” on a list of targets.
“Just to win any class at Hickstead really is unreal,” he said.
Find out the famous stallion Billy Congo, who is now enjoying life showjumping with Pippa Funnell
The rising star from the Netherlands made his performance count when it mattered in the famous class
In anticipation of this most prestigious and historic of British shows, we caught up with organiser Edward and Lizzie Bunn
Pippa has taken over the ride on husband William’s former European medallist Congo, since he came over to her yard for rehab for a minor injury last year.
She jumped him last week at Knokke in Belgium and wanted to aim for the Queen’s Cup as the class has long been on her “bucket list”.
They were the first of the field to jump a clear in the opening phase, following several high-fault attempts at Kelvin Bywater’s challenging track.
“I was quite happy to withdraw after the first round!” joked Pippa, who rode Congo as a young horse before handing over the reins for William to jump.
“He’s a lovely, lovely horse and it’s a real privilege to ride something of his quality, he’s had the most amazing career,” she said.
“It’s so special for him to come here after Billy Buckingham, who is one of his sons, won the Derby, and a great for him as a stallion that he’s still well and jumping at 17.”
Full report from the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Great Britain at the BHS Royal International Horse Show in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 August